Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Don’t just win

Aristotle in watercolour generated by Midjourney AI, prompted by Netha Hussain, via Wikimedia commons
Aristotle in watercolour generated by Midjourney AI, prompted by Netha Hussain, via Wikimedia commons

“It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.”
― Aristotle

Aristotle was not some tree-hugger, by the way. He was down with making slaves of those taken hostage in war. But he understood that every war has a beginning, a middle and an end. That end is not a goal in itself; it is not about killing the right people or reaching the farthest border, but about the citizens who must rebuild lives and the countries that must build a peace for a traumatized, war-torn populace (even if you plan, like the Greeks, to redraw borders or expand your sphere of influence). Peace is not something that falls from the heavens, and it does not magically appear the day we decide to end the war. A real peace will take vision, planning, negotiation and the creation of new safeguards. None of which I believe our present government holds.

At the beginning of the war, I pointed out that releasing hostages and “winning” the war are not necessarily compatible. I thought I was stating the obvious, but for a while it seemed I was blessedly wrong. We were told that only fighting – only pressure on Hamas – would get the hostages released. And indeed, a month and a half in, women and children, foreign workers and one Russian national were released, in return for a few days’ ceasefire and some fuel.

More pressure, more military gains, we were told, and Hamas will be begging to return hostages in exchange for just a few more days without fighting and a bit more fuel.

And yet, as the fighting continues, the military has conquered large parts of Gaza and taken down huge chunks of the Hamas’s military capability. Despite the fact that we are “winning” the war on the ground, Hamas is now only willing to discuss releasing hostages once Israel ends the war for good. The terms will be difficult, if not impossible.

“Get the hostages released, and then you can go back to fighting the war,” say the families of the hostages, but even Bibi realizes that signing a peace treaty would prevent the war from restarting in the near future.

Nonetheless, I am starting to hear voices – at first just whispers, but stronger every day – saying that further military pressure might not be currently effective in getting the rest of the hostages released. Hmmm.

The military can keep on winning. It can keep digging under Khan Younis, exploding tunnels half a kilometer at a time. But we have already seen, in over three months of war, that the military cannot free hostages. The military can stop the fighting, but it cannot bring the war to an end. It can patrol the border, but it cannot bring peace. It will not get those held captive released.

How can we get the hostages released, prevent Hamas – at least the bloody-minded segment that apparently only exists to kill Jews – from regaining power, and restore quiet to the border?

Why, I ask myself and the talking head on the TV, is the Hamas the only one talking about terms to get the hostages released? Surely Israel has some cards of its own that can be offered up in an exchange. Bibi explained to the families that Israel had tendered its own bid for a hostage exchange, but it later seemed as though that bid was only about to be presented to the war cabinet, which includes members who are opposed to any hostage deal. In any case, he can rest assured that an Israeli deal will be rejected out of hand.

The military can stop the fighting, but it cannot bring the war to an end

Hamas has raised the stakes precisely because it knows the value of the remaining hostages has undergone inflation. They cashed in earlier on the ones that were too much trouble to keep – women and children who cried and had to be moved every time Israeli bombs came too close – and kept the males and soldiers who were easier to move around and more likely to obey orders. Plus, as the war grinds on, Hamas has less to lose and more to gain by holding on to those hostages until it can use them to negotiate a full-stop end to the war.

The Americans and Qataris are offering us an outline of a plan to end the war. It would free the hostages and replace the Gaza government with one that will be forced to accept the idea of non-hostile relations with a Jewish state. It will, however, involve Gazans ruling themselves – within the framework of a Palestinian state.

Seems fair to me. This is not only the peace-treaty-at-the-end-of-the-war we should be aiming for; it is the one we’ll end up with in any case, due to a combination of American election season, foreign pressure and lack of alternatives. Still, we insist on “fighting to the end,” hoping the picture will somehow look different a few months from now.

We are worried about Hamas resurfacing in the northern half of Gaza, but we have not bothered to offer those who stayed there any alternative

The hostages won’t be home tomorrow, and the battles will not be ending the day after. But the longer we have leaders with tunnel vision who lack the ability and courage to think about how we’ll end not just the fighting, but the war, we’ll be stuck in a stalemate – gaining ground but losing traction. We are worried about Hamas resurfacing in the northern half of Gaza, but we have not bothered to offer those who stayed there any alternative. We have supposedly conquered that part of the country. What are we waiting for?

Just as the war has entered phase 3 in some places, while phase 2 fighting is still going on farther south, we could be thinking about phase 4 in those places it is possible for people to live. Surely, we can figure out how to wrest the welfare and infrastructure controls from the Hamas members who are left and start preparing for phase 5 – when we hand those controls to someone else and get out.

That is a directive that can only come from the government, and our current government is unwilling to think that far ahead, unable to conceive of a plan that would free the hostages and bring security to the borders. (Two out of three might not be so bad.) We are told we are fighting to the end, but no one has yet been able to tell us what that end will be. I’m with Aristotle on this one.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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